The mailing address on post may read “Fort Lee” but the proximity to neighboring communities like Petersburg, have binded the two entities in partnership for many years.
That partnership was officially recognized in July 2006 with the forming of the Army-Community Heritage Partnership. The community of Fort Lee and Historic Downtown Petersburg became the focus of a project selected by the Department of the Army and the National Trust for Historic Preservation Main Street Center in Washington, D.C.
As one of nine communities in the country selected for this project, the mission assigned to the partnership is “to strengthen the economic, historic and social ties between Army installations and historic commercial districts in the neighboring community.”
Teresa Lynch, senior program officer for the National Trust Main Street Center, coordinates efforts between Army installations and the partnering community. Her itinerary sends her from posts like Fort Huachuca, Ariz., Carlisle Barracks, Pa., Fort Bragg, N.C., to Fort Lee.
Lynch visited the area to attend Fort Lee-Petersburg Army-Community Heritage Partnership meetings, March 13-14, to work with the team members and task forces that make up the partnership.
The purpose of the session was to review initial assessments, recommendations and analyze a survey previously conducted.
“From there, recommendations become objectives, and then we assign projects for each of the task forces,” said Lynch. “What we’ve found from these partnership meetings is that there is actually much better communication going on here than in other areas.”
Lynch said that the program allows participation from a grassroots level all the way up to senior command on post, as well as business leaders and city/county officials in the community.
Specifically, Lynch saw the level of community involvement in detail from the response to a survey conducted on post. The survey sought the input of the post community to gauge the needs of military personnel and their families and to assess their perception of Petersburg’s downtown district.
“There was a certain number of responses needed to make the survey viable (400) and the task force did a terrific job in getting the survey out,” said Lynch. “There was a great response, over 1,200 came back, and I think that shows how effective communication is on Fort Lee.”
Information from the survey indicated a positive response to the historical character and architecture of the area, with an emphasis placed on improving public safety and overall cleanliness.
While development of the downtown area is continual, Lynch said that this input helps keep focus on what matters most to visitors.
Garrison commander Col. Gwen Bingham said a lot of progress has been made with the partnership, and she looks forward to further developing projects with the task forces.
“Our senior leadership and commanders continue to be committed to our partnership,” said Bingham. “You have to start small sometimes, but the word is getting out, and in a positive way. We are committed to seeing this through.”
Bingham hailed the partnership program as “premiere across the Army.” With the program’s goal aimed at enhancing the vitality of the dowtnown district, she believes the services to Army families will be of vast interest to everyone on post. In the wake of continued base realignment and closure planning, Bingham said that BRAC-associated guests on post have also become interested in the developing partnership.
“One of two things working well for us when folks come on post is that they see the meticulous planning going on (both inside and outside the gate) relating to BRAC,” she said, “and they also take away the strong bonds we have with our communities.”